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Auditor general finds no fault with Pa. Lottery, but unusual wins remain unexplained

Pennsylvania LotteryPennsylvania Lottery: Auditor general finds no fault with Pa. Lottery, but unusual wins remain unexplained
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Pennsylvania's Auditor General says that he has full confidence in the integrity of the Pennsylvania Lottery following a review in response to an investigation in 2017 that found some Pennsylvanians have claimed lottery tickets with seemingly improbable frequency.

In an interview Monday, Eugene DePasquale said he met with lottery officials and was given a thorough tour of its operations and an explanation of its security procedures.

DePasquale added that the lottery told him it had investigated the most frequent claimants and found no wrongdoing.

"I have a high degree of confidence from the beginning of the system to the end that it's a clean system," DePasquale said.

But statisticians said that many of the winning patterns PennLive identified remain improbable, raising questions about the thoroughness of the review.

Pennsylvania's most frequent winner, Nadine Vukovich, claimed 209 prizes from instant tickets worth $600 or more between 2004 and 2016, winning $348,000.

Investigations into unusually frequent prize winning in other states have sometimes found those wins rooted in fraud; from retailers secretly stealing winning tickets from prize claimants to schemes where people cash in winning tickets on behalf of others to avoid having debts deducted from their prizes.

Philip Stark, a statistician at the University of California Berkeley, analyzed Pennsylvania lottery data. He found that luck or frequent play couldn't plausibly explain how more than a dozen frequent winners in Pennsylvania — including multiple retailers — could win so often.

In the case of Vukovich, a Mechanicsburg veterinarian, Stark found that even if every Pennsylvania resident spent $7.8 million on lottery tickets, there would still be less than a 1-in-10 million chance that any of them would win as many prizes as she did.

Asked on Monday how the Pennsylvania Lottery explained the frequent winning, DePasquale said lottery officials maintained that the claimants were simply frequent players. He said they gave an explanation for why the 2017 investigation's analysis was incorrect but he couldn't remember their argument.

In a follow-up email asking for more information, Susan Woods, a spokeswoman for the Auditor General's office, said her office had no further comment.

In an interview on Wednesday, Stark said while it was always possible there was a bug in the computer code used to run his calculation, he had checked his calculations thoroughly.

If anything, Stark said, his calculations were likely underestimating the improbability that certain claimants, like Nadine Vukovich, could win so often.

"I don't know how to explain how small these numbers are," Stark said. "Even if they had spent those millions and millions of dollars, even if 12 million people had spent one million dollars, it would still be incredibly unlikely that any of them won this much."

Stark added that his method, developed with two other mathematicians in 2014, was well-vetted and based on long-standing statistical principles. That same method exposed suspicious behavior in the Florida Lottery that led to major security reforms.

Three other statisticians consulted this week said Stark's methodology was sound.

Bill Notz, a statistician at Ohio State University, who examined frequent lottery winning in Ohio several years ago, said Stark's method was more sophisticated than his own analysis and particularly conservative.

"In other words, when his calculations show that a probability is very small, the true probability is even smaller than the value he calculates," Notz said.

Ronald Wasserstein, the executive director of the American Statistical Association and a former statistics professor, also said he supported Stark's method.

Based on his review, Wasserstein said, the frequency of prize claims by a number of Pennsylvania's most frequent claimants couldn't be plausibly explained by luck.

"I would dare the lottery to find a competent statistician who would agree that it's just frequent play," Wasserstein said.

Jan Hannig, a statistician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has analyzed frequent winning in the North Carolina Lottery, likewise supported Stark's analysis.

Hannig said that, among Pennsylvania's top ten most frequent winners, he felt the frequent claims of a few could plausibly be explained by gambling addiction.

But the frequent prize claims of at least five of them, he said, were clearly suspicious.

"There's no way this is by luck," Hannig said.

In response to questions, the Pennsylvania Lottery reiterated Wednesday that it believes the state's most frequent claimants are simply frequent players.

Asked whether it had changed security procedures in response to the 2017 investigation, the Pennsylvania Lottery declined to provide details.

"New measures are implemented on a regular basis, but we do not discuss specific measures for obvious security reasons," said Gary Miller, a spokesman.

Pennsylvania's most frequent winners of $600 or more

  1. 209 wins ($348,048) - Nadine Vukovich of Mechanicsburg, Pa. (4/2/2004 to 12/22/2016)
  2. 162 wins ($1,319,556) - Neil Perretta of Chalfront, Pa. (1/14/2004 to 12/14/2016)
  3. 131 wins ($273,163) - David Cirocco of Pittsburgh, Pa. (1/15/2000 to 5/5/2015)
  4. 127 wins ($256,150) - Colleen Dunne of Phoenixville, Pa. (9/13/2009 to 12/28/2016)
  5. 122 wins ($174,277) - Steven Seibert of Corapolis, Pa. (1/12/2004 to 5/19/2016)
  6. 111 wins ($338,833) - James Hilton of Malvern, Pa. (2/20/2001 to 12/31/2016)
  7. 110 wins ($606,110) - Austin Tucker of Pittsburgh, Pa. (3/14/2005 to 2/12/2016)
  8. 110 wins ($227,550.50) - William Sestito of Philadelphia, Pa. (7/15/2008 to 3/18/2016)
  9. 106 wins ($1,748,295) - Angelo Scanzello from Conshohocken, Pa. (11/16/2005 to 12/27/2016)
  10. 104 wins ($262,500) - Harry Turner from Portsmouth, Va. (1/6/2000 to 2/23/2008)

Penn Live, Lottery Post Staff

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30 comments. Last comment 5 months ago by noise-gate.
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Simpsonville
United States
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January 22, 2015
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Posted: February 6, 2018, 11:50 am - IP Logged

Don't know what to think of this. 

Now some crazies will find some of these individuals and cause them bodily harm.  The red flag is flying compliments of the Pennsylvania lottery or perhaps target is a better word.

Be curious as to what other LP members have to say, I'm really @ loss for words right now.

    music*'s avatar - box
    The Big Valley in California
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    Posted: February 6, 2018, 12:11 pm - IP Logged

    If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck then it is a DUCK.

     There is a lot of mendacities here. Lying is not good for our Country nor it's people. 

    Crazy

      Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.  Alan Watts and Zen Buddhism

      Avatar

      United States
      Member #35335
      March 16, 2006
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      Posted: February 6, 2018, 12:23 pm - IP Logged
      1. Pittsburgh is spelled with an h
      2. After the steel mills closed, after the unemployment benefits expired, after the welfare expired I knew of a guy that turned bookie.  He knew the numbers before they hit. He did time in the University of Western Penitentiary for his part. Others did time as well. The news said some of the ping pong balls were heavy.
        noise-gate's avatar - images q=tbn:ANd9GcR91HDs4UJhjxO7cmeMQWZ5lB_FOcMLOGicau4V74R45tDgPWrr
        Chasing the Dream.
        White Shores- California
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        Posted: February 6, 2018, 1:38 pm - IP Logged

        How is it that 7 times lottery winner, Big Smile Richard Lustig has never been investigated or has he? 

         * Voice of Reason *   

         

        People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.

          Sarge0202's avatar - images
          Springfield, Ill
          United States
          Member #180294
          February 28, 2017
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          Posted: February 6, 2018, 2:30 pm - IP Logged

          How is it that 7 times lottery winner, Big Smile Richard Lustig has never been investigated or has he? 

          Not sure if he was investigated, but let me cover some points about some of the wins he had. I am not sure if he is a retailer either.

          Win 1: $10,000 - Jan 1993 (scratch-off ticket)

          Win 3: "Wheel of Fortune" Holiday trip to Los Angeles - June 2000 (valued at $3,594.66) (scratch-off ticket "2nd chance drawing")

          Win 4: Elvis Holiday trip to Memphis - Oct 2001 (valued at $4,966) (scratch-off ticket "2nd chance drawing")

           

          Scratch wins have better overall odds of winning then most "jackpot games".  PB and MM have about a 4% chance of getting your money back or more. In Illinois, 20$ scratchers have 30-40% chance of getting your money back or more.  This way you "lose" less money playing them.  Also 2 wins were second chance drawings.  Not as many people enter them.  Also if he digs thru trash, he could enter more.

           

          Win 2: $13,696.03 - Aug 1997 (Florida Fantasy 5)

           

          Win 5: $842,152.91 - Jan 2002 (Florida Mega Money)

          Win 6: $73,658.06 - Nov 25th 2008 (Florida Fantasy 5)

          Win 7: $98,992.92 - Aug 9th 2010 (Florida Fantasy 5)

          Florida Fantasy 5 has an overall odds of 13%, and he might have a "system".  This guy has 17 wins over 17 years, not as much as the guys in the linked article.  What I did find unusual is that he sound like a regular "big" player, why aren't there more $600-$1000 wins?

          Don't believe everything you read on the Internet.    --- Abraham Lincoln

            Sarge0202's avatar - images
            Springfield, Ill
            United States
            Member #180294
            February 28, 2017
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            Posted: February 6, 2018, 3:05 pm - IP Logged

            Now my comments for the winners in the original article.

            For the retail owners, do I think many can get their wins by "discounting" or flat out theft, YES.

            But let us consider other possibilities.

            If a person (retailer or not) wins $600+ in a year, they can write off their losses up to the winning amount.  By getting a tax break on your losses, the amount you actually lose is less, therefore your risk is less.  With the lower risk, you can gamble more.

            Second, for retailers and scratchers, lets talk about "card counting".  Just like in Blackjack, you count the cards to increase your chances of winning. I just want to talk about the 20$ scratchers.  Here in Illinois, there is a 30-40% chance of winning, anything.  In each deck, there is at least one 100$ ticket.  If you are a retailer that cashes all tickets up to $600, you will know the "big" prize came up in a stack.  Also with a 1 in 3 chance of winning your $20 back (or more), sit and watch, if no one wins after 3-4 draws in a stack, go for it because you will have a BETTER CHANCE then anybody else. Yea, if I was a retailer, I would start by buying a couple books to check for patterns like average number of losing tickets between any winner.  How often there are 2 winners in a row, etc.

            Then I will get a notepad and track each ticket sold with a single letter code for win, loss, walkout, and "Big Win", then buy accordingly.  Doing that you can easily double your odds of winning "something" and increase your odds of a bigger win because you will not waste money on a book if somebody won big already.

             

            Of course if a retailer cashes in tickets not sold at his store, he probably is doing something illegal.

            Don't believe everything you read on the Internet.    --- Abraham Lincoln

              zephbe's avatar - animal butterfly.jpg
              South Carolina
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              July 15, 2009
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              Posted: February 6, 2018, 5:00 pm - IP Logged

              Were any of the frequent winners retailers?  If it's in the article I missed it.

              Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.-Rocky Balboa

              “Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of going after yours.” – Zig Ziglar

                MillionsWanted's avatar - 24Qa6LT

                Norway
                Member #9517
                December 10, 2004
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                Posted: February 6, 2018, 5:13 pm - IP Logged

                Perhaps it shows it is possible to win with systems. Some of these winners might have used systems. I see there are some strategy books even for instant scratch lotteries.

                  grwurston's avatar - Lottery-050.jpg
                  Living My Signature
                  bel air maryland
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                  Posted: February 6, 2018, 6:29 pm - IP Logged

                  Nadine's winnings occurred between April 2004 and December 2016. That is a total of 153 months. She had 209 wins. You're talking on average, 1.3 wins a month over 12 years.

                  I love how these statisticians always claim the odds are so steep, people would have to spend millions of dollars in order to win so often. That may be true if you're only buying quick picks. But serious players study the games they play, and know their states well enough to know how to take advantage at certain times.

                  "You can observe a lot just by watching." Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player.

                  The numbers will tell you what numbers to play. Pay attention to the numbers.

                  Every lottery system can be improved. If you're not winning almost every day, yours can be made better.

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                    casper wyoming
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                    Posted: February 6, 2018, 8:55 pm - IP Logged

                    So the audit found in favor of the lottery and against the players.

                     

                    What a surprise. I am guessing they were paid off to find in favor of the lottery.

                      noise-gate's avatar - images q=tbn:ANd9GcR91HDs4UJhjxO7cmeMQWZ5lB_FOcMLOGicau4V74R45tDgPWrr
                      Chasing the Dream.
                      White Shores- California
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                      Posted: February 6, 2018, 9:34 pm - IP Logged

                      Nadine's winnings occurred between April 2004 and December 2016. That is a total of 153 months. She had 209 wins. You're talking on average, 1.3 wins a month over 12 years.

                      I love how these statisticians always claim the odds are so steep, people would have to spend millions of dollars in order to win so often. That may be true if you're only buying quick picks. But serious players study the games they play, and know their states well enough to know how to take advantage at certain times.

                      I Agree!.. G, especially with the statisticians comment. These guys are no different than some doctors out there, relying heavily on “guesswork.” Case in point, l loved playing racketball in my late teens. Then, the knee started swelling up after each game. Went to see a doc: “ Don’t worry, it’s just a little strain, it will pass.Yeah right. Since the wife worked for a hospital group, she got me in to see Doctor Gary Fanton, used to, or still does work on the 49ers- one visit, 10 second on the slab and he says “ you have a torn meniscus! So one says strain, the other says this. Statisticians sometimes are like poor doctors.

                       * Voice of Reason *   

                       

                      People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.

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                        Blue Bell,Pa
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                        Posted: February 6, 2018, 10:11 pm - IP Logged

                        at noise gate, So was it a torn meniscus or a strain?=0p

                          noise-gate's avatar - images q=tbn:ANd9GcR91HDs4UJhjxO7cmeMQWZ5lB_FOcMLOGicau4V74R45tDgPWrr
                          Chasing the Dream.
                          White Shores- California
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                          Posted: February 6, 2018, 11:15 pm - IP Logged

                          at noise gate, So was it a torn meniscus or a strain?=0p

                          When Dr Fanton says its a torn meniscus, its a torn meniscus! 

                          Was an outpatient procedure as well fellini, think it took less than 30 minutes. It's been nothing but marvellous ever since.

                           * Voice of Reason *   

                           

                          People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.

                            JAMORA's avatar - ladyclover
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                            Posted: February 7, 2018, 1:03 am - IP Logged

                            Why is it so hard to believe that a few people can find order in chaos....that's my approach,  and it works better thàn birthdays or whatnot...

                            "Don't waste time, it's the stuff life's made of..."